Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pagan values, feminism, and transgender women

This is my contribution to the 2012 Pagan Values Project.  For more information about the Pagan Values Project, please see   

Non-violence and eco-feminism

I'm a Witch and a Quaker.

Non-violence and eco-feminism are essential parts of my life.

(I've written about this in detail before, including in my contribution to the Pagan Values Project in 2009:

Because non-violence and eco-feminism are central to me, I don't support -- and I do challenge -- violence and behaviors that lead to violence.  I support, encourage, and participate in non-violent conflict resolution.  I participate in community that promotes non-violence, teaches it, and tries to live it, amongst ourselves and in the wider world.  I have training in both verbal and physical non-violent conflict resolution, and have trained and co-trained others in these methods.   I have put my own life at risk in peace witness, and as part of and in support of non-violent activism, both at home and in other parts of the world.

So, no, this is not just an airy theory to me.

This is real life. 

And one of the things I challenge because it leads to violence is hate speech.

What do I mean by "hate speech"?

There are two main categories of hate speech -- the kind that's covered by the law, and the kind that isn't. 

According to Wikipedia (

The kind of hate speech that is covered by the law is

...any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. The law may identify a protected individual or a protected group by race, gender, ethnicity, disability, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other characteristic.

The kind of hate speech that is not covered by the law is

...any communication that vilifies a person or a group on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or other characteristic.

This is over-simplified, but provides enough of a background for purposes of this piece. 

How does hate speech lead to violence?  

Hate speech dehumanizes other people, and thereby leads to violence -- by allowing us to come to see them as less than human, as deserving of violence.  Dehumanization allows us to come to believe eventually that what happens to them doesn't "count" as violence towards other people

The research on violence and violence prevention, and experience within the eco-feminist and other political and spiritual and religious movements, demonstrates this, over and over.

  • When we make the effort to remind ourselves of the humanity of other people -- other people we don't like, other people who make us uncomfortable, other people who challenge us, other people who scare us, other people who make us squirm -- we reaffirm a commitment to non-violence.  Even more importantly, we are doing something concrete to ensure that we are less likely to commit violence against other human beings -- other expressions of That-Which-Is-Sacred. 
  • When we use words that trash other people, words that support some people as deserving of violence, words that support other people's violent behavior against certain people, words that dehumanize other human beings, words that refer to other people as animals or objects or trash...  We are engaging in behavior that promotes violence. 

If you'd like to read more about how how reinforcing humanity works to prevent violence, and dehumanization works to increase violence, see

Talking about transgender women

Recently, in particular, I have come across a wide range of language used in reference to transgender women.

Because of this, I'm going to speak about transgender women specifically right now; but almost everything I say is also true of transgender men, genderqueer people/people who don't fit the gender binary, as well.

I know that many people who are uncomfortable with transgender women, and make disparaging jokes about transgender women out of that discomfort, think nothing of it.

I know that many people who insist on using their own words for the experience and bodies of transgender women, instead of the words that transgender women themselves choose, think nothing of it -- or even believe that they are doing something positive.

I know that many people who use derogatory language for or towards transgender women think it's no big deal, or it's harmless, or that they are somehow defending themselves.

I know that many people don't think these things are hate speech. 

They're wrong.

  • These things are hate speech.  They disparage an entire group of people based on their gender identity. 
  • These things are not harmless; they are dangerous.  This behavior dehumanizes transgender women.  Dehumanizing transgender women promotes and encourages violence against transgender women. 
  • Dehumanizing transgender women promotes and encourages violence against all women.
  • Dehumanizing transgender women promotes and encourages violence against everyone who does not conform to a particular set of gender stereotypes

Gender stereotypes and feminism

One of the aims of feminism has been to help women -- and not just women -- resist gender stereotypes, and make choices based on what we like and what's good for us, rather than have our choices limited based on what society says is appropriate for arbitrary categories of gender.  Things like "girls," "boys," "women," and "men."

What should determine whether I wear a skirt or trousers -- what I like, the weather, and what I'll be doing while wearing my clothing, right?  What should determine the length of my hair?

My gender should just not be relevant to these choices.  Neither should anyone else's.

However, my gender is still relevant, and I am sanctioned for making choices too far outside my culture's stereotypes for my gender.

Society holds transgender women to even stricter adherence to gender stereotypes than it does cisgender (non-transgender)* women.  (So do many feminists, something I find ironic.)

(*Cisgender as non-transgender: Again, this is over-simplified, but should be enough for this post, for now.  I will give a more in-depth treatment of this in another post soon.)

Hate speech towards transgender women in feminism

Many transgender women are feminists.

Many cisgender feminists are supportive of transgender women and transgender feminist women.

Many cisgender feminists are uncomfortable with transgender women and transgender feminist women.  Some are challenging their discomfort; some are not.

But there are some cisgender feminists who take their discomfort to extremes.

One of the places I've come across some of the most derogatory language towards transgender women again recently -- outright hate speech -- is within feminist communities. 

Speaking  up

As a feminist, as a Quaker, as a Witch, it is my job to speak up when people in my communities use language, especially hate speech, that promotes violence against women, period.

And it is my job to speak up when people in my communities use language, especially hate speech, that promotes violence against transgender women.

So I am speaking up:

Hate speech against transgender women -- NOT consistent with my Quaker, lesbian, radical eco-feminist, Pagan values.  

It's time to for all of us who are allies to speak up.   


The Sun is a mass! Happy Summer Solstice!

This has been stuck in my head for days now:

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees

Yo ho, it's hot! The sun is not
A place where we could live
But here on earth there'd be no life
Without the light it gives

Umpteen years or so ago, I was delighted when National Public Radio played this in honor of Summer Solstice:

Now, of course, there's an updated version:


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Western Friend, June 2012: "Friends, Prisons, and Restorative Justice"

Acquaintances often ask me about restorative justice.  The current issue of Western Friend, June 2012 focuses on prisons and on restorative justice.

Check it out! 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Two upcoming events

Two upcoming ministry events that I wanted to share.  Both are at Friends General Conference Gathering in Kingston, RI in early July; one is open to the public.

Wednesday evening, 4 July
Interest group at FGC Gathering

John Hunter of NC and I will be merging/co-leading the following two interest groups:

Theological Diversity Within Our Meetings - A great Strength of Quakerism
We all "have a place in the choir" at our home meetings.  This is true even as we may hold different personal theological beliefs.  We will explore how unity in such diversity might be a great strength for Quakerism.  A presentation will be followed by small groups where we each may explore our own theological assumptions and how we are included in our meetings and in the wider body of Friends.

Every Quaker Has a Place in This Meeting
Three Friends walk into Meeting for Worship: a Christian, a Pagan, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Non-Theist.  Each gives vocal ministry from their own experience; all experience gathered worship.  Come create the rest of the story: coming together, supporting each other, building community, helping each other sing in our own unique voices, singing in harmony. 

For more information, see:

Friday evening, 6 July
"The Fire and the Hammer"
Open to the public!

I'm singing in "The Fire and the Hammer," a major choral work about early Quakerism in England. 

This major choral work composed by two British Friends has been performed on both sides of the Atlantic on a number of occasions, most recently at the 350th sessions of New England Yearly Meeting last August. Dramatic passages from The Journal of George Fox alternate with songs based on these excerpts to provide a powerful glimpse into the Quaker movement that swept across England in the 17th century. New England Friends that formed the choir last summer will be joined by Friends from around the country, rehearsing together the weekend prior to the gathering.
For more information, see:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Photography exhibition in NYC: Women of Power

Polish, Pagan, powerful.

Katarzyna Majak explores the power of women as she searches for female wisdom and plurality of spiritual paths hidden within monoreligious Polish society.  Majak’s Women of Power series turns stereotypical witch imagery on its head and showcases striking images of women ranging from their 30’s to 80's, wearing colorful unconventional clothes, and holding their unique objects of power. When asked what being a witch meant to one of the subjects in the series, she replied ‘A witch is a woman of knowledge who takes a broom and sweeps to cleanse the world.’

Solo exhibition by Katarzyna Majak
Porter Contemporary
548 West 28th Street
New York, NY 10001 USA
May 31 through July 14, 2012
Opening reception with the artist on May 31, from 6:30 - 8:30 PM

Information about the exhibit, the story of how Majak came to take these photographs, and some images, at:

More images at: 
(If you hover near the top of each image, you'll see a caption.)

Blessed be!

(h/t Jason Pitzl-Waters.)